What Technology Wants Illustrated Edition
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-The New York Times Book Review
"Kevin Kelly "radically rethinks the relationship between humans and technology ... Kelly's concept of the technium and his description of how it attains autonomy are original and timely."
"... an exuberant book."
-The Washington Post
"...consistently provocative and intriguing."
About the Author
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143120174
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143120179
- Product Dimensions : 5.49 x 0.89 x 8.43 inches
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Illustrated Edition (September 27, 2011)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #166,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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He observes, “As computers moved to the center of our lives, I discovered something… In addition to technology’s ability to satisfy (and create) desires… it did something else. It brought new opportunities… I saw online networks connect people with ideas, opinions, and other people they could not possibly have met otherwise… I realized that other technologies, such as automobiles… even television, did the same in slightly different ways. For me, this gave a very different face to technology.” (Pg. 4)
He explains, “I dislike inventing words that no one else uses, but in this case all known alternatives fail to convey the required scope. So I’ve… coined a word to designate the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us. I call it the TECHNIUM. The technium extends… to include culture, art, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types… For the rest of this book I will use the term ‘technium’ where others might use ‘technology’ as a plural… I reserve the term ‘technology’ to mean a specific technology… In other words, ‘technologies’ can be patented, while the ‘technium’ includes the patent system itself.” (Pg. 11-12)
He states, “The technium wants what we design it to want and what we try to direct it to do. But… the technium has its own wants. It wants to sort itself out, to self-assemble into hierarchical levels, just as most large, deeply interconnected systems do. The technium also wants what every living system wants: to perpetuate itself, to keep itself going. And as it grows, those inherent wants are gaining in complexity and force. I know this claim sounds strange. It seems to anthropomorphize stuff that is clearly not human… But ‘want’ is not just for humans. Your dog wants to play Frisbee… With the technium, ‘want’ does not mean thoughtful decisions. I don’t believe the technium is conscious (at this point). Its mechanical wants are not carefully considered deliberations but rather tendencies… a compulsion toward something. The millions of … parts push the whole technium in certain unconscious directions.” (Pg. 15-16)
He says, “The extended human is the technium… If technology is an extension of humans, it is not an extension of our genes but of our minds. Technology is therefore the extended body for ideas… the evolution of the technium… mimics the evolution of genetic organisms. The two share many traits: … [both move] from the simple to the complex… from uniformity to diversity… and from slow change to greater evolvability… But instead of expressing the work of genes, technology expresses ideas.” (Pg. 44)
He again explains, “This rising flow of sustainable difference is the inversion of entropy… call it EXOTROPY---a turning outward… Exotropy can be thought of as a force in its own right that flings forward an unbroken sequence of unlikely existences… exotropy resembles, but is not equivalent to, information and… entails self-organization. We can’t make an exact informational definition of exotropy because we don’t really know what information is.” (Pg. 63)
He observes, “Progress is real, but so are its consequences. There is real, serious environmental damage caused by technologies. But this damage is not inherent in technologies. Modern technologies don’t have to cause such damage… we can make better technologies… We don’t go on as we are. We address the problems of tomorrow not with today’s tools but with the tools of tomorrow. This is what we call progress. And there will be problems tomorrow because progress is not utopia… the future as a territory of continuously expanding possibilities is not only attainable but also exactly the road we are on now.” (Pg. 101)
He points out, “the variation presented to natural selection is not always random… variations are often shaped by the possibilities inherent in the increasing patterns of self-organization … In the old view, the internal (the source of mutation) created change, while the external (physical and chemical constraints) creates forms, while the internal (self-organization) selects or directs them. And … it redirects to recurring forms…. The emerging modified vie recognizes additional forces. It proposes that the creative engine of evolution stands on THREE legs: the adaptive… plus the contingent and the inevitable… We can describe these as three vectors of evolution.” (Pg. 120)
He suggests, “from the distance of billions of years, it seems as if evolution anted to create certain designs… There is a tilt to evolution’s seemingly chaotic churning that rediscovers the same forms and keeps arriving at the same solutions. It is almost as if life has an imperative. It ‘wants’ to materialize certain patterns. Even the physical world seems biased in that direction.” (Pg. 124-125) He continues, “In the following chapters I show how the innate tendencies in the technium converge upon recurring forms, just like biological evolution. This leads to inevitable inventions. And further, these self-generated biases also create a degree of autonomy… this naturally emergent autonomy in technological systems creates a suite of ‘wants.’ By following the long-term trends in evolution we can show what technology wants.” (Pg. 128-129) Later, he adds, “You can’t effectively jump ahead when you want to. But.. an invention will erupt with such urgency that it will occur to many people at once… in a sequence determined by the rules of complexity. We might call this technology’s imperative.” (Pg. 155)
He outlines, “technology is shaped by a triad of forces. The primary driver is preordained development---what technology wants. The second driver is the influence of technological history, the gravity of the past… The third force is society’s collective free will in shaping the technium, or our choices… Although restricted in the cosmic sense, we have more choices than we know what to do with. And via the engine of the technium, these real choices will keep expanding (even though the larger path is preordained).” (Pg. 181) He adds, “The vortex of the technium has grown its own agenda, its own imperative, its own direction. It is no longer under the full control and mastery of its parent and creator, humanity. We worry, like all parents, particularly as the technium’s power and independence increase.” (Pg. 186)
More controversially, he includes a chapter, ‘The Unabomber Was Right,’ in which he states, “[Ted] Kaczynski, speaking as the Unabomber, echoes… many of the points I am making in this book, claiming that technology … is not mere hardware… it is more akin to an organism … The truth of Kaczynski’s observations does not absolve him of his murders or justify his insane hatred… I was utterly dismayed to discover that one of the most astute analyses of the technium was written by a mentally ill mass murderer and terrorist. What to do? A few friends and colleagues counseling me to not even mention the Unabomber in this book. Some are deeply upset that I have… Kaczynski was misled because he followed logic divorced from ethics, but as befits a mathematician, his logic was insightful.” (Pg. 198-199)
He says of an Amish community, “In their deliberate constraint of technology they have figured out how to optimize an alluring combination of leisure, comfort, and certainty over the optimization of uncertain possibilities… as the technium explodes … we find it harder to find fulfillment. How can we be fulfilled when we don’t know what is being filled?” (Pg. 233)
He summarizes, “In the end, technology is a type of thinking: a technology is a thought expressed. Not all thoughts or technologies are equal. Clearly, there are silly theories, wrong answers, and dumb ideas…. Some possibilities restrict future choices, and some possibilities are pregnant with other possibilities.” (Pg. 263) Later, he adds, “The more powerful a new technology is, the greater the new freedoms it opens up… But this expansion includes possible abuse as well. Present in every new technology is the potential to make new mistakes. The freedom to choose increases in many ways as the technium grows.” (Pg. 311)
He asserts, “The primary thrust of extropy is to uncover the full diversity of intelligences. Each type of thinking, no matter how large it is scaled up, can only understand in a limited way. The universe is so huge, so vast in its available mysteries, that it will require every possible type of mind to comprehend it. The technium’s job is to invent a million, or a billion, varieties of comprehension. This is not as mystical as it sounds. Minds are highly evolved ways of structuring the bits of information that form reality… minds are the fastest, most efficient, most exploratory technology so far for creating order… the technium assembles brain-like networks at scales way beyond individual humans. The trajectory of the technium is pointed toward a million more mind inhabiting the least bits of matter, in a million new varieties of thinking , subsume with our on multiple minds into a planetary thought---on the way to comprehending itself.” (Pg. 333) He goes on, “As the technium expands, it accelerates the rate of evolution first begun with life, so that it now evolves the idea of change itself. This is more than simply the most powerful force in the world; the evolution of evolution is the most powerful force in the universe.” (Pg. 344)
He suggests, “If there is a god, the arc of the technium is aimed right at him… As evolution evolves, it keeps piling on different ways to adapt and learn until eventually the minds of animals are caught in self-awareness… together a universe of minds transcends all previous limits. The destiny of this collective mind is to expand imagination in all directions until it is no longer solitary but reflects the infinite. There is even a theology that postulates God, too, changes… this theory, called Process Theology, describes God as a … perfect process… I bring up God here at the end because it seems unfair to speak about autocreation without mentioning God---the paragon of autocreation… God or not, self-creation is a mystery.” (Pg. 354-355)
He continues, “every species can be read as a four-billion-year-long encounter with God. Yet we can see more of God in a cell phone than in a tree frog… In a new axial age, it is possible the greatest technological works will be considered a portrait of God rather than of us… The technium is not God; it is to small. It is not utopia… It is a becoming that is only beginning. But it contains more goodness than anything else we know… No one person can become all that is humanly possible; no one technology can capture all that technology promises… it will take the whole technium… Along the way we generate more options, more opportunities more connection, more diversity, more unity, more thought, more beauty, and more problems. Those add up to more good, an infinite game worth playing. That’s what technology wants.” (Pg. 358-359)
This book will be of great interest to those studying the future, and particularly the role of technology in it.
The answers are not simple, in fact that are impossibly complex. Tracing cosmological, biological, and technological evolution Kelly makes an honest attempt at revealing the truly BIG answers--Man, God, Life, and Meaning. All within a historical and scientific framework.
This book has more facts and history than you can shake a spoon at and for those alone it's worth reading. Why is the smallest Rock ant smarter than our best computers? Humans can go to space but we can't make basic judgemental calls--Why? What tech will continue evolving and what will stay the same for millennia (more)? Why do the Amish use diesel engines drawn by horses? How many times have eyes evolved independently? How many individual times was Harry Potter written? Why do technological terrorists shop at Walmart? What level of tech will make you happy? All of these are answered in incredible, clear detail. The first quarter of the book is a very large scale view of technological evolution. This serves as the framework that is theoretically modified in more specific directions later.
The truly remarkable parts of this book occur in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. This is where Kelly takes your concerns and goes 10 steps beyond even the most audacious science fiction in describing technology as a living force in the greater evolutionary context of the Universe. It makes The Matrix seem like a puppet show and the remarkable thing is that Kelly says it is--in comparison to real life. Life really is stranger than fiction.
The last quarter loses steam as it concludes. With all his major points made, Kelly spends a lengthy analysis on how exactly future technology will develop. It is very convincing but understandably broad (and unknowable!). The last quarter does not detract one bit from the immensity of the ideas presented in the first 3 quarters.
What I like best is Kelly's passionate, clear, yet remarkably humble writing. The idea that we are nothing more than free yet completely inconsequential parts of a vast autonomous system is haunting yet inspiring. Kelly isn't concerned with fame or even academic impact. If he didn't write this, book someone else would have. Even Einstein only beat inevitability by a few years. He understands the scale of it all. Above all, he is concerned with the human element: how to make our lives better and how they will change in the immediate and long term future. As they always have.
Top reviews from other countries
Written by an individual deep into technology but still managing to keep it at arms length it is an interesting
book for anyone interested in technology on lots of levels.
Still reading it so this is more of a view in process. Like what I have read so far :)